During the campaign Barack Obama's campaign deliberately led supporters to imagine he favored the reopening of the wildly unpopular North American Free Trade Agreement, which most agree has cost millions of jobs, driven down wages in the U.S. and Mexico, increased the gap between rich and poor and driven millions of Mexican farmers off the land, into cities and to the U.S. But reports from the Canadian press were confirmed by the White House yesterday. Obama has no intention of renegotiating NAFTA.
From the Department of Broken Promises: Obama Closes Door on NAFTA Renegotiation
by BAR Managing Editor Bruce A. Dixon
It's hardly a surprise any more when politicians redefine their campaign promises out of existence or break them outright. To the astonishment of nobody paying close attention to the trajectory of the Obama presidency the White House quietly admitted yesterday that it had no intention of opening up the wildly unpopular NAFTA, or North American Free Trade Agreement for revision or renegotiation.
Lying is an art practiced by all humans from about the time we master speaking in complete sentences. Hence the smarter we are and the more important the stakes, the more ways there are to lie. For a really clever fellow with lots more bright people on his payroll and an absent-minded press ready to help, the possibilities are endless.
Back in 2003, when Glen Ford and this reporter, then at Black Commentator, interrogated Obama, then a candidate for the US Senate from Illinois he told us he favored “significant renegotiation” at a minimum.
“I think that the current NAFTA regime lacks the worker and environmental protections that are necessary for the long-term prosperity of both America and its trading partners. I would therefore favor, at minimum, a significant renegotiation of NAFTA and the terms of the President’s fast track authority. ”
But that was only when he was questioned directly, and only when he was in a Democratic primary and needed the progressive vote in his home state. The magic of the Obama brand is that since then, the senator, and now the president has rarely been put on the spot in front of his supposed base at a time when he needed their votes more than they needed him.
Keenly aware of massive public disapproval of NAFTA, Obama has, since coming to Washington as a senator in 2004, and in his 2008 presidential campaign, tread a deceptive and hypocritical line, refusing to denounce the investor rights agreement with his own lips, but giving his supporters the impression that he opposes it.
“Bad trade deals like NAFTA hit Ohio harder than most states
“Of the two candidates left in the race only Barack Obama has been a consistentl opponent of NAFTA and other bad trade deals...”
Locked in a death struggle with his Siamese twin Hillary Clinton, Obama had to invent points of differences between himself and his last opponent, even if they were false. Striving mightily to create the impression that he opposed NAFTA in states where it might help him, he denounced Hillary Clinton for supporting it. A equally hypocritical big business Democrat to the core, Hillary tried to put the same move on Obama, but with less success.
In a country where the press actually called candidates and officials to account, neither candidate could have gotten away with this. But this is not that country, and we don't have that press.
What NAFTA Is.
NAFTA and all the other so-called “free trade agreements” are in fact investor rights agreements. They make businesses operated by international investors substantially immune to local laws and regulations on health, safety, wages, hours, labor rights, antipollution, financial and other practices. They establish secretive extrajudicial courts with no appeal where corporations appoint the judges who can decide in favor of them.
NAFTA was negotiated by the first Bush administration in 1991 and 92. Outside the community of market fundamentalists, it has always been wildly unpopular. George H.W. Bush couldn't move it through Congress, and it was a big issue in the 1992 presidential election. In a memorable moment of one presidential debate opposite Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, independent candidate Ross Perot predicted that if NAFTA were enacted the “giant sucking sound” we'd all hear would be the movement of millions of jobs leaving the U.S., fleeing southward to Mexico.
Bill Clinton won that election. In the same way our current president is able to cheerfully hand over trillions to Wall Street, to refuse to investigate torture and violations of the Constitution, to leave 50,000 troops and many more mercenaries in Iraq, and extend the Afghan war to nuclear-armed Pakistan with scarcely a public murmur from his left, Clinton did for the bipartisan Party of Business what its Republican wing could not. Clinton abandoned congressional Democrats and “reached across the aisle” to Newt Gingrich, leader of the Republicans in Congress to work for NAFTA's passage. The fact as the National Review quoted Clinton aide Dave Dreyer at the time, "...that nobody wants this (NAFTA). There's just no popular sentiment for it,” made no difference. The Party of Business wanted it very badly indeed, and having a Democrat push it threw opposition into disarray. Though most congressional Democrats voted against NAFTA, it squeaked through with near unanimous Republican support and a minority of Democrats, championed by the Democratic president. Clinton invited Jimmy Carter and Bush back to Washington to take part in the signing.
Ross Perot proved prescient, according to NAFTA at 10, a comprehensive report put out a decade later by Public Citizen. An investor rights agreement rather than a so-called “free trade agreement” it drove down wages on both sides of the U.S. - Mexican border and put self-sustaining Mexican farmers, the people who invented corn and beans out of business by the millions. Mexico became dependent on corporate-grown food from the U.S. Millions of its ex-farmers were driven by hunger into the cities, where there were few or no jobs, and then came north to the U.S.
Obama, NAFTA, and Canada
Last spring, while Obama was stumping Ohio and Michigan giving the impression to voters that he indeed opposed NAFTA, because that's what they wanted to hear, a key member of his campaign, assured Canadian consular officials that such rhetoric was nothing but “political positioning” and not to be taken seriously. , forcing the Obama campaign and the Canadians to issue a series of denials. Obama fans bitterly denounced those who fed the public suspicion that their candidate was a free trader. Later in the campaign, all but declared himself exactly that. But none are so blind, they say, as those who choose not to see.
Apparently its was stories emanating from the Canadian press that caused the White House to confirm this week that NAFTA renegotiations are dead.
``We're obviously very delighted with this decision from the Americans,'' Harper said as he wrapped his up a three-day working visit to Jamaica. ``As you know, President Obama has been moving this way really since the primary campaign.''
Again, it's not the kind of thing Obama would say outright if not pressed, and American journalists are too respectful of this or any president to ask inconvenient questions. In his first hundred days, which won't be over for another week or two. President Obama is on his way to leaving a trail of broken promises and eviscerated hopes for change as high and deep as any of his predecessors. This is just one more.
Bruce Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report., and based in Atlanta. He can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.